Thursday, February 25, 2010

Climate Deniers for Christ

Americans are taking climate change a lot less seriously these days:

Bill McKibben, the founder of, published
a helpful perspective on the rise of climate deniers in the US. He proposes that the powers-that-be behind the climate denying movement have used an impressive strategy that echoes how the OJ Simpson lawyers sowed doubt within the jury and the American people 15 years ago. As Johnnie Cochrane and his team used the glove and the racist ranting of one LA policeman, so also the climate deniers are using a half dozen errors in the recent 3,000 page scientific report on climate change and a few "political" comments from thousands of hacked emails from the climategate scandal in Britain a few months back.

McKibben eschews the climate denying movement. We'll see, someday, that their skepticism will be dismissed rather easily:

In the long run, the climate-deniers will be a footnote to history. But by delaying action, they will have helped prevent us from taking the steps we need to take while there's still time. If we're going to make real change while it matters, it's important to remember that their skepticism isn't the root of the problem. It simply plays on our deep-seated resistance to change.

Climate change, or "global warming" as most deniers refer to it, has become yet another issue in the American culture war between conservative and liberal Christian factions. The Mainline Protestants on the left yearn for changes at the policy level, dictating change in the Global North to save the poor in the Global South and eventually the entire globe, while Evangelicals on the right raise skeptical questions and stick to their free market guns, framing the issue in terms of individual "stewardship" and saving the poor through economic development, growth and prosperity.

My brother-in-law, who attends BIOLA, recently told me that they brought in Dr. Calvin Beisner from the Cornwall Alliance to raise skepticism about global warming at a chapel on campus in October '09. On the Cornwall website, they specify what they deny:

We deny that Earth and its ecosystems are the fragile and unstable products of chance, and particularly that Earth’s climate system is vulnerable to dangerous alteration because of minuscule changes in atmospheric chemistry. Recent warming was neither abnormally large nor abnormally rapid. There is no convincing scientific evidence that human contribution to greenhouse gases is causing dangerous global warming.

We deny that alternative, renewable fuels can, with present or near-term technology, replace fossil and nuclear fuels, either wholly or in significant part, to provide the abundant, affordable energy necessary to sustain prosperous economies or overcome poverty.

We deny that carbon dioxide—essential to all plant growth—is a pollutant. Reducing greenhouse gases cannot achieve significant reductions in future global temperatures, and the costs of the policies would far exceed the benefits.

We deny that such policies, which amount to a regressive tax, comply with the Biblical requirement of protecting the poor from harm and oppression.

EasyYolk would like to respond by raising some pertinent questions about how this denial is framed against overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary:

Instead of "unstable products of chance," can't the earth and its ecosystems be both created and fragile, with disastrous consequences due to human misuse and abuse?

Isn't carbon dioxide, just like all of God's natural resourced gifts (like, for instance, water, wine and women), a pollutant when it is overused and emitted into the atmosphere?

Can't we advocate for government policies that both protect the environment and protect the poor from harm and oppression? (We assume that if the Cornwall Alliance is against regressive taxation, which we applaud, then it must be for progressive taxation?)

Also, from the Cornwall Alliance, Pastor Jay Dennis, from a megachurch in Texas, in the conclusion of his essay "Good Stewards, Good Samaritans":

This is not a license for conspicuous consumption, of course. But it does mean that economic growth and prosperity are particularly important for the poor. Put simply, increased wealth means better health care, safer housing, improved food, enhanced education, and a cleaner environment.

The only problem with this conclusion is that it simply does not pan out in real life. The narrative of growth and prosperity for all has continuously had harmful consequences for the planet and the poor. Wealth and better living conditions do not trickle all the way down to those who need it the most. If, indeed, we live in the wealthiest country in the history of the world, then why do 47 million Americans lack basic medical care, 3 million are homeless and millions continue to foreclose on their homes, drawing unemployment benefits and claiming food stamps to survive. Unfettered free market solutions to major problems in our world leave people and the planet behind, while millions at the top enjoy the comfort and conveniences of growth and prosperity.

Conservative brands of Christianity are clinging to minority versions of science to solidify their own theological systems. For these voices, the issue of global warming, like evolution and sexual orientation, embraces yet another trendy form of "secular" science that debunks God and the Bible. We must remind ourselves that some of our great Christian leaders of the past have gone down the road of placing literalist interpretations of the Bible over compelling scientific findings. For instance, Martin Luther's classic response to Copernicus' findings with a simplistic quote of Joshua 10:10-15:

There is talk of a new astrologer who wants to prove that the earth moves and goes around instead of the sky, the sun, the moon, just as if somebody were moving in a carriage or ship might hold that he was sitting still and at rest while the earth and the trees walked and moved. But that is how things are nowadays: when a man wishes to be clever he must needs invent something special, and the way he does it must needs be the best! The fool wants to turn the whole art of astronomy upside-down. However, as Holy Scripture tells us, so did Joshua bid the sun to stand still and not the earth.

--Theological Autopilot

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